Hofstra's Colleluori loses fight with cancer


HOLMES, Pa. -- Nick Colleluori's infectious smile and stubborn outlook never gave you a hint of what was really going on. That the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that caused his dramatic weight loss, made his joints ache and robbed him of playing lacrosse at Hofstra University wasn't going to beat him. No way.

Instead, he diverted attention to his father, Pat, or his mother, Cheryl. Or concern for his brothers Pat, Daniel and Mike. Or his Hofstra teammates. Or his coach, Seth Tierney. That was Nicky, always more worried about what others were going through than about what he was suffering.

Nick Colleluori, who was featured in a Sept. 8 story on ESPN.com, lost his battle with cancer at 5:40 a.m. Tuesday at his home in Pennsylvania. He was 21. The funeral will be at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Morton, Pa., followed by a private burial that afternoon.

"We're all hanging in there," his father said. "We were all there for him. We're going to be OK. Nick was more concerned with everyone else but himself. He wanted to make sure his team was OK. He was peaceful. He had accepted what had happened. I was amazed at how he handled this. He touched a lot of lives. There were over 200 people that came through this house to see him last Saturday. It's amazing the love the community has given Nick. We knew how much he was loved. It's amazing."

The Hofstra team boarded a bus Monday morning to see their teammate one last time. Before they left, Tierney told his players to relax, be themselves. One by one, Colleluori's teammates whispered something into his ear.

"The family found out Saturday afternoon and were told Nick had a very short time to live," Tierney said. "I mentioned to the team as we got off the bus that this would be the last time we would see him. We spent a couple of hours with him. Nick was holding court. He was telling old war stories. He was being Nick. He's touched so many lives."

Colleluori's body was failing. His kidneys weren't working. The 5-foot-10 scrapper, whose playing weight was listed at 187 pounds, was down to 126 pounds.

"It was rough, seeing him like that," Tierney said. "It wasn't easy. It was emotional. We laughed and we cried. His brother Michael told me he was so relaxed after seeing everyone."

Colleluori spent his last hours with his brothers, his fiancée, Jordan Costa, and his parents, telling each one he loved them. Then early Tuesday morning, he told his family that this was it.

Then he closed his eyes for the last time.

Colleluori knew what could eventually happen, yet he never seemed to let it bother him. He tried to live his life as normally as he could, when not dealing with the side effects of radiation, when his fingers got so swollen he couldn't bend them.

Colleluori and his family thought he had the cancer under control in September, as Nicky held out hope of possibly returning this spring to play again for Hofstra.

A defender noted for his aggressiveness, Colleluori fought through chemotherapy sessions and radiation treatments just as he had defied much larger offensive linemen when he was an undersized 170-pound nose tackle at Ridley High School, located in Folsom, Pa.

He attacked cancer the same way.

"I can't get scared," Colleluori told ESPN.com for the story in September. "Things happen that you sometimes have no control over. I can be angry, really angry. But this whole thing has been harder for everyone else -- my family, my friends, everyone close to me -- [than for] me. I couldn't stay angry. I never looked at it as something that I did to myself. It's something that I have no control over. I'm just going to keep on fighting."

That was just Nicky. Never willing to give up.

Joseph Santoliquito is the managing editor of RING Magazine and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.